Unmistakable Marks

Warranted Genuine Snarks


Me, predicting the demise of PalmOS two years ago:

Palm is staying alive by retreating to the phone arena, where hardware is still less powerful, and efficiency therefore in greater demand; but this is obviously just a stalling tactic. In the very near future, Palm is doomed.

The WSJ, today:

Palm Inc. ... is planning on Monday to announce a new version of its Treo smartphone that runs Microsoft software, a person familiar with the matter said. Up to now, the Treo has exclusively used Palm`s operating system.

Comments | September 23, 2005

The March of Science, cont.

I kinda thought I was kidding when I predicted a five-blade razor, but nope:

The Gillette Company today announced the launch of Gillette Fusion and Gillette Fusion Power, revolutionary new wet shaving systems for men... Both shaving systems feature a breakthrough 5 blade Shaving Surface technology on the front of the cartridge, with blades spaced 30 percent closer together than MACH3 blades.

Please, please tell me that there will never be a six-blade razor.

Comments | September 15, 2005

The Uncanny Omnicompetence of Techies

Smart techies have, with disconcerting regularity, a deep-seated belief that the most difficult and complex subject in the world is tech (of whatever persuasion they’re interested in), and that since they’re smart enough to have mastered this tech stuff, they are therefore automatically smart enough to be an expert in any other field of human knowledge. This gives them a license to pontificate knowledgeably on any other subject without giving more than a few hours’ thought to it.

So it is that we end up with Lisp programmer and dot-com millionaire Paul Graham mathematically proving that you can’t reduce inequality without reducing economic growth, and that we therefore shouldn’t try.

You might think that Graham’s conclusions would suffer from not having any particular expertise in the area, or (apparently) not even having looked into the considerable economic literature on the topic, but this isn’t the case. It turns out that when actual economists discuss the relationship between inequality and growth, they just blather on about models and statistics and data, and end with a wishy-washy conclusion that the data and the state of economic theory is inconclusive to prove any relationship. This indecisiveness can’t compare to Graham’s absolute mathematical proof and definitive conclusion.

Advantage: Graham!

Comments | September 5, 2005

Reasons to Hate Thomas Friedman, #43 in a series

For making “flat-Earth” signify hyper-modernity rather than pathetic backwardness, as in this sentence from Slate:

Dell has been adored because it is the very model of a flat-earth, New Economy business.

Comments | August 30, 2005

Tax Shelters for the Rich or Reality-Based

If you haven’t been paying attention, you may not have noticed that there’s a new retirement savings vehicle being created next year — the Roth 401(k). The quick summary is that it is to a regular 401(k) what a Roth IRA is to a regular IRA: You pay your taxes up-front and take money out tax-free at the end instead of putting tax-free money in and paying taxes at the end.

Mathematically, if tax rates stay the same, there’s no difference between a Roth and non-Roth account, so it doesn’t really matter whether you use a Roth or a regular account. (An example if you don’t believe this: You could put $1000 in pre-tax money into a non-Roth account, let it double to $2000, and pay 25% taxes on withdrawal, ending up with $1500; or you could take $1K in pre-tax money, pay 25% in taxes to get $750 that you put into a Roth account, let it double to $1500 and withdraw it tax-free. Either way, you have $1500 at the end and an initial $750 hit to your post-tax paycheck.) But there are two reasons you might want to contribute to a Roth 401(k) instead of a regular one:

  1. You’re well off. Like all of Bush’s policies, the Roth 401(k) is primarily a boon to those who make a lot of money. Why? Because 401(k) accounts have a contribution limit of $15K a year. For most people, this isn’t much of a limitation — with a median family income around $50K, a $30K cap on 401(k) savings isn’t presenting a real obstacle. But for the highly well-off, it’s limiting their tax-sheltered saving, and the Roth 401(k) helps them get around that limitation by keeping the contribution cap at the same $15K level as the regular 401(k) — but with the Roth, that’s $15K of post-tax money, not pre-tax money; which means that, if you’re in the top tax bracket, you can now shelter the equivalent of $23K of investment money from taxes. Not a bad deal at all.
  2. You believe George W. Bush’s fiscal policies are insane and unsustainable. Massive budget deficits don’t keep going forever, and spending is never going to fall to a rate that’d allow current tax rates to bring the budget to balance. So, inevitably, taxes are going to go up in the future. With a Roth 401(k), you effectively get to lock in the low rates of current taxes, rather than having to pay the higher rates that you’d otherwise pay in retirement.

If either of these reasons apply to you — and especially if both of them do — you’ll want to check with your HR department to see if they plan to offer the Roth 401(k) next year.

Special bonus tip: If the second reason applies to you, but not the first, take a look at the Roth IRA. You can’t contribute as much as you can in a 401(k), and you can’t contribute at all if your household makes more than about $160K, but if those aren’t problems, it offers all the benefits of the Roth 401(k) immediately.

Comments | August 28, 2005

Criminal Activity: Still Illegal!

One of the more irritating things about the Internet is the way that we all just casually accept the way we get thousands of criminals contacting us every day via email. I suspect that this is a boiling frog thing: We used to get advertisements from real businesses, which was irritating but almost certainly legal; we then started getting advertisements from vaguely dodgy business, which was irritating and probably legal; we then started getting advertisements from scammers pretending to be in dodgy businesses, which was irritating, almost certainly illegal, but hard to tell from the previous case; and now we’re all deluged with obviously totally illegal fraud, but we’re so conditioned to the “reality” that spam is irritating but legal.

But it’s not. Fraud is fraud, and if people are trying to loot your bank account, they are absolute, 100%, no-question-about-it criminals, and they need to be arrested and prosecuted. Yes, this isn’t necessarily trivial, it will require law-enforcement attention, possibly some international cooperation, and probably even some real money. But law enforcement does lots of hard things, and it’s not that expensive on a societal scale. And, obviously, the benefits would be huge. I don’t understand why this law-enforcement push hasn’t happened, and neither does Tim Bray:

I just don’t understand how this can be. I got yet another phishing spam claiming to be from Amazon. So peeked at the real URL and it was pointing to “Amazo-check.com”, which lamely attempts to sort of look like Amazon, among other things using its logo. Thirty seconds’ investigation reveals that the domain is registered by Marin Lopez, Calle Albartos 22, Madrid. Mapquest suggests that that should be Calle Albatros, which is in the same postal code. The site is registered and hosted by arsys.es in Spain. Either Señor Lopez is a criminal and should be arrested, or his domain has been hijacked (I doubt it, given the name) and he should either take it down or his ISP should, or he’s a fiction, but someone paid arsys for the registration and they’re the criminal. What am I missing?

Comments | July 9, 2005

What’s wrong with audio magazines?

There’s obviously a certain tension that goes along with producing an ad-supported magazine that reviews products. On the one hand, you’re dependent on the people who make the stuff you’re reviewing both for review samples and for advertising, so don’t want to piss them off; on the other hand, you need to be credible for the reader, so have to say that shitty things are shitty.

Most magazines do a pretty reasonable job of handling the issue. Computer Gaming World writes savage reviews of computer games; Entertainment Weekly rips on big, expensive movies; Car and Driver mocks lame cars. And then there’s the “audiophile” press. There’s nothing inherently nutty or quacky about the audio world — things do sound different, some are better than others, blind testing is feasible and possible, and you can even take measurements to support findings. Fundamentally, audio magazines should be at least as sensible as car magazines.

But they’re not. I subscribed to Stereophile once, and let my subscription lapse when I realized that every single damn review was a positive — glowing, even! — review. It didn’t matter what the product was, or how preposterous its claims were (the supposed audible differences between freakin’ power cables always cracks me up), or even if it totally sucked — it got a good review.

The final straw for me was a review of a $350K amplifier that measured horribly, worse than the typical $200 receiver you can pick up at Best Buy. And what did they say about it?

the SH-833 did what I’d expect of a superbly executed SET amplifier: it had absolute midrange purity, physicality, transparency, and especially delicacy. These are easily the most musically sensual, delicate, wrap-your-musical-heart-around-them, physically and emotionally palpable amplifiers I have ever heard. Getting this level of delicacy, transparency, solidity, and speed in one package is what’s new for me—especially the speed of resolution.

$350K! Horrible! And they raved it about it. That’s not just useless; that’s worse than useless. That’s the consumer research equivalent of reading a Flat Earth Society pamphlet, only less entertaining.

At this point, I suspect that matters are irredeemable, as a sort of Gresham’s Law is in the advanced stages of operation, and the only people who’d consider subscribing to an audio magazine are total loons.

Comments | July 9, 2005

The magic powers of digital technology

The New York Times has one of those pieces about HDTV where someone frets about how ugly stars will look now that we don’t have the sucking power of NTSC blurring away all their imperfections. They specifically mention Cameron Diaz as someone who looks hideous and freakish under the cold light of the HD camera.

So here’s my question: Cameron Diaz has appeared in movies. Movies are shot on 35mm film. 35mm film has more resolution than HDTV (1080p, the absolute highest HD resolution, is two megapixels; in still photography, it’s widely considered that six megapixels is where digital starts being comparable to 35mm film). Cameron Diaz, frequently viewed on film, has not previously been widely known as a physically repellent person. So why on earth would a lower-resolution medium start suddenly revealing flaws that weren’t present on film?

I suspect the people in these articles are just plain full of shit.

Comments | June 12, 2005

And you wonder why there’s no good Mac software

Okay, right, so moving to Intel chips was probably inevitable, given the economics of the thing. Still and all, if you’re a Mac software developer, you’ve got to be getting a bit annoyed. Back around 1995, you had to port all your stuff from Motorola’s 680x0 line to the PowerPC; around 2001, you had to port it all from Mac Classic to OS X; and now you need to port it all from PowerPC to Intel. Meanwhile, those folks selling software for non-Apple computers had to port from Win16 to Win32 back in 1995, and have been sitting pretty with that ever since. Extra side bonus: A software market approximately 50 times larger.

It could be worse, though: They could be making software for Linux.

Comments | June 7, 2005

The Human Example

So the Washington Post has article #6,891 about the obvious and ongoing real estate bubble, which is interesting only if you’ve either missed the previous 6,890 articles or enjoy pre-gawking at car crashes that haven’t yet happened. But the part that gets me is the inevitable kicker paragraphs at the end. After a long article presenting piles of evidence that home prices are doomed to fall, we get this:

Nonetheless, Jennifer Tyler isn’t worried. She just took out a 10-year, interest-only loan to keep the monthly payments affordable on her new Capitol Hill house.

“Anything can happen in 10 years,” she said. “I can move, I can re-finance.” She said that her interest-only mortgage, where no principal is paid for the entire 10 years — and thus she builds no equity unless the house value increases — saved her about $200 a month and made the difference between buying and not buying.

“Anyway,” she said, “the house will almost certainly appreciate, too.”

Poor Jennifer Tyler! Obviously, she never would have said that if she’d just finished reading the article. Probably, she wouldn’t have said that if she’d even been vaguely aware of some of the facts in the article. But because of the placement of her quote, it ends up looking like she deliberately and foolishly is ignoring every damn thing the article is saying. And you just know that for years after the market crashes, coworkers are going to be posting little clippings on her cubicle or snickeringly saying, “Well, obviously, the house will almost certainly appreciate...”

Note to self: Never talk to a reporter.

Comments | April 19, 2005

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